While specific predictions are impossible, good scholarship has a way of preparing the public for what comes next in world affairs. Bad scholarship, to the contrary, gets in the way. Kremlinologists provided much bad scholarship in their acceptance of the inherent stability of the Soviet system. Africanists provided bad scholarship in the predictions for model developments in places later wracked by chaos. In this book, Kramer documents, in devastating fashion - naming names throughout - decades of bad scholarship on the part of Middle East studies departments at American universities. Their predictions of successful secular development in Middle Eastern societies in the 1960s and early 1970s did not prepare their students for the Lebanese civil war or the Iranian revolution. They predicted the success of Nasser and of Palestinian democracy under Arafat. The author's mention of Edward Said's public prediction in 1993 that the Islamic terrorist threat was "phony" is just one of the tidbits the reader will find here.
As spinelessness spread in Middle East studies departments, Kramer shows - again in searing documentary fashion - how government and the public began to rely increasingly on think tanks and journalists for the guidance that the academy failed to provide. Example: before Middle East scholars had the courage to say so, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times reported how Palestinians conducted their internal politics in no better fashion than most Arab states. Kramer has done his homework, quoting academics themselves on their own failings, like one Columbia University political scientist who reveals how politically motivated many of her colleagues were. Ivory Towers on Sand came out at a perfect time, just weeks after the terrorism of September 11, which put another nail in the coffin of the Middle East studies establishment. It will seem to any reader that think tanks and journalists are destined to play an even greater role in shaping public opinion on the Middle East, as the academy slides into irrelevance - unless, of course, there are young scholars and academics willing to challenge their elders and call them to account.